LAW

Questions of how to judge a judge

MALCOLM GRAY February 1 1988
LAW

Questions of how to judge a judge

MALCOLM GRAY February 1 1988

Questions of how to judge a judge

LAW

The arrests were dramatic and widely publicized—and they sent shock waves through Manitoba’s legal community. On Jan. 15 and Jan. 16 a five-month police investigation into alleged traffic ticket-fixing culminated in the arrests of 16 people—including two Winnipeg judges, two magistrates and four lawyers. Among those facing charges of obstruction of justice—an indictable offence that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years upon conviction—were Chief Provincial Court Judge Harold Gyles and prominent Winnipeg lawyer Jay Prober. Provincial Court Judge Robert Trudel is charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Last week police made additional arrests that brought the number of defendants in the affair to 18. But prominent members of the Manitoba bar have accused the police of linking unrelated cases and exaggerating minor alleged breaches of the law—and, in doing so, creating the impression that they had uncovered widespread corruption, which did not exist.

Spokesmen for the Manitoba Trial Lawyers Association argued that a large part of the police investigation had focused on informal procedures that judges and defence lawyers frequently employ to dispose of traffic cases—including the practice of magistrates accepting pleas of guilty over the phone. But, declared association executive member Pamela Smith, “a lot of things in Winnipeg are done for the sake of expediency, perhaps, and not quite the way it might be laid out. But that’s the way the system works.” At week’s end, members of the Manitoba Bar Association called for a public inquiry into the handling of the affair. Declared association president Rhéal Teffaine: “Our initial shock and horror at the arrests have given way to confusion, frustration and anger.”

Meanwhile, Winnipeg Police Chief Herbert Stephen rejected Prober’s allegations that the investigation into traffic offences, which carry such penalties as fines, demerit points or loss of driving privileges upon conviction, had degenerated into a media circus. Still, Prober said that on Jan. 15 two detectives had arrested him at his downtown Winnipeg law office—and then driven him to a nearby police station, where waiting television news crews videotaped his arrival. Since that well-publicized arrest, Prober, who has practised in Winnipeg for the past 18 years, has vigorously main-

tained his innocence. Indeed, the 44year-old lawyer appeared in provincial court last week where he obtained an early court date for his case—in order, he said, to reveal the flimsy nature of the Crown’s allegations.

Outside the courtroom where Judge Frank Allen scheduled a Feb. 15 hearing, Prober told reporters that the charges arose from a telephone call that he made to Winnipeg magistrate Bruce Steen last Oct. 2. Prober acknowledged that he had obtained a simple reprimand for a client who had been accused of speeding. But in an interview, he rejected allegations that the police were trying to link the favorable disposition of that case with two National Hockey League tickets that he had given to the magistrate two weeks later. Declared Prober, who said that he regularly gave Winnipeg Jets tickets to lawyers, magis-

In similar fashion, defence lawyer John Scurfield criticized Chief Stephen for linking Judge Gyles to the ticket-fixing investigation. Instead, Scurfield said that a charge of obstructing justice against the judge arose from a case earlier this month in which Gyles had been the defendant. In that case, Gyles received a $400 fine and had to pay $128 in court costs after he pleaded guilty to carrying a loaded hunting rifle while riding in a vehicle. But police also charged driver Albert Chartrand because he had allowed Gyles to ride in the back of his pickup truck. And Scurfield acknowledged that Gyles had discussed Chartrand’s case with a magistrate— who told the judge that the charge was probably invalid.

trates, judges and police officers: “I asked for no favors, I expected no favors, I received no favors.” Added Prober: “I think the police now realize that they have problems.”

Meanwhile, the provincial cabinet has appointed Judge Ian Dubienski to serve as acting chief judge of the provincial court—filling a post that the 60-year-old Gyles had held for the past 20 years. And Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley pledged that he would quickly find a French-speaking replacement for Trudel, a prominent member of the local francophone community who became a magistrate in 1967. Despite such changes, the integrity of the province’s judicial system — and the reputations of several of its most prominent members — will remain in doubt un£ til the controversial g charges are heard in I open court.

MALCOLM GRAY

DOUG SMITH